Barack, Shmarack: What's in a Name?
What's going on?
Over the years, Josh has gone from Jo-Jo or Joshy to Joshua. Sam and Sammy to Samuel. Hy to Hyman, and Toby to Tobetha. And locker-room nicknames judged offensive back to given names. We know dozens more of the same transmutational shifts.
What's going on?
In each case, the friendly diminutive has been rejected and given up for the more austere given name on the birth cert. In some cases, real names have been elongated or extended or subtly nuanced to add cachet to names deemed too easy, too accessible, too unpapal. So Cal might have become Calvin; Vickie becomes Victoria.
Our president, meanwhile, has gone from his "birth certificate" given names to a series of fanciful and/or step-parent and marriage-related transitional identities, from Barack to Barry, from Obama to Soetoro -- and now, for the elections and subsequent, back to his originals.
But we aren't speaking here of unmarried or briefly married mothers shifting husbands and assigning new last names to their small-fry males, nor of the convenience names assumed by a student consumed with über-ambitious goals and providing himself cover as he leap-toads from school to school, community organizer to community...disorganizer.
We are looking at adults deciding that chicken-soup and apple-sauce nomenclatures don't serve in the buttoned down second decade of the 21st century.
When you ask friends, remind associates, that you are no longer Lenny, but rather Leonard, not Dougie, but Douglas, you are taking yourself in hand, announcing that you are now officially in business as an adult, putting aside childish things, and along with it the calls to shared events and experiences that tagged friendships with these newly self-named old friends now adjusted to reflect the rigors of adult life.
You don't mess with guys who have removed those ies and llys (or for females, adding an i at the end of names that heretofore ended in y) from their names. You operate with them from an entirely different premise.
First, you have to retrain your mouth to say the full names, deleting the habitual tail on names used since back-lot baseball at six years old. Next, you have to straighten your backs mentally and grope with more adult greetings and perhaps requests. The old gang is not confrontable if the old gang has used Wite-Out on their kid-names and associations.
It's a little analogous (a little) with the way we greet former spouses or exes. You slept with them; you shared all sorts of juices and anguishes and sloppiness and drippy pizza. But once you are divorced or living apart, you pretend you are cucumbers, never let bygones encroach on the much more together self you have now cobbled together. So you chill and do this dance of sangfroid, feigning total control and managerial mastery over the jelly that is sometimes congealing in your legs and stomach.
It's a trick, and though everyone plays it, and everyone knows the reality is that the subterranean hollows sometimes shout in the vast spaces of heart chambers injured or alone, we all pretend to the coolth. Like the Richard Gere or Julia Roberts, we are forced into those dread moments. Acting all fine. Oh, yeah, we were married for that decade, yeah. Uh, so, we are well healed and hardly recall those hundreds of nights, those shared vacays, those kid-swaddlings and middle-of-the-night emergency false calls...
If you've never broken off with intimate partners, you won't have a reference point. But most people have trodden that pavement, and know whence those twinges and pains cometh on sudden meetings-up.
Back to name extensions: we are essentially doing the same thing with going back to the formal selves we were dubbed at birth, in those overwhelming cases where responsible parents gave real names to their chubby cherubs, and not the peculiar off-hand directional nouns or fruit-beast-or-toolshed monikers some parents think are just so dope of late.
Our president has gone the long route around to come back to his full three-name handle. For so long, he left off the middle name, Hussein, as arguably problematic. Evidently, his wranglers thought it echoic of that troubling dictator and monster, Saddam Hussein, of unblessed memory.
The president did, indeed, probably leverage his African-Muslim names to good effect, as he campaigned around the country with his clever deflationary "I know I have this funny name that's hard to pronounce" and took the sting out of the low-information voter's inchoately asking how come we were fighting people with the same middle and last names as this upstart. Not dissimilarly, the conflation of enemy #1 for a long while, Osama bin Laden, with Obama [Been Somewhere], provided fodder for a few late-night throwaway jokes. At least, until OBL was found and dispatched to his watery grave.
But our childhood and latter buddies, our former campmates and schoolchums, are trying to make full adults out of cuddly pet names we used for them and with them. We can work to acknowledge their efforts to exalt themselves from the kiddie past to the promising, square-shouldered mantle of adulthood.